The Nursing and Midwifery Council’s decision to implement a new system to test non-EU nurses’ competence is to be welcomed.
It brings the UK more into line with other countries (such as Australia), which are implementing tougher entry requirements for international nurses wishing to bring their skills to their (often sunnier) shores. And it also puts the NMC requirements on a par with those of other UK healthcare regulators, such as the General Medical Council.
On the face of it, the test doesn’t look too tough. A situational piece of training to assess clinical skills and a multiple-choice test on a computer. It’s hardly studying for the bar. But, of course, the purpose of this process is to protect the public. So the question is whether this system is more or less effective than the one it replaces - which was to supervise nurses on the job for a set period of time?
The answer is that neither method will protect the public and ensure nurses are safe to care for patients unless employers engage with it and take responsibility for ensuring their nursing staff are competent and displaying the right values. And that’s not about just checking they can pass a few tests. They need to hire people with the right skills and behaviours, and then continue to train and enthuse them to care for patients in the right and safe way.
“For too long employers have been able to simply pass nurses at the end of their supervision, without properly scrutinising their abilities”
The test and clinical assessment are just a start, but they at least formalise the verification of non-EU trained nurses. For too long employers have been able to simply pass nurses at the end of their supervision, without properly scrutinising their abilities.
There are around 5,000 non-EU trained nurses working in the UK. As trusts rush overseas to fill posts and ensure they are meeting NICE’s minimum staffing levels and displaying their staffing numbers on the NHS Choices website, that number is increasing daily.
The more cynical parts of the national media have suggested this just makes it easier for trusts to recruit from abroad. But at the moment, trusts have to do little or nothing when hiring non-EU trained nurses. From October, they will at least have to prove every one of those nurses has passed a test.
The real proof will be once the system has been implemented and we see its impact. Only then will we know if it’s working. The NMC has done the right thing in making this change, but it might not be there yet. Protecting the public is the NMC’s only objective, and that might mean some fine-tuning after this comes into effect in October.
Jenni Middleton, editor
Follow me on Twitter: @nursingtimesed